Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Says DWTS Competitor Tonya Harding Doesn't 'Need to Break My Legs'
“I’m not competing against Tonya in a way where she needs to break my legs,” the 71-year-old NBA legend said of the former Olympic skater on Access Live on Wednesday. “Tonya tries to get along with everybody. I found most of the people that I met in connection with this have been great. They’re friendly, and we’re gonna go out there and have some fun with it.”
Abdul-Jabbar was referencing the infamous 1994 attack on Harding’s skating rival Nancy Kerrigan — who competed on season 24 of DWTS — in which Kerrigan was clubbed on the knee by an assailant during practice for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
The attack was arranged by Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, along with Brian Sean Griffith (then named Shawn Eckardt) and his friend Derrick Smith, who drove the getaway car. Gillooly and Eckhart pleaded guilty to racketeering for their involvement in the incident.
Harding, 47, denied having any involvement in the attack but pleaded guilty to conspiring to hinder prosecution. She had to pay a $160,000 fine and was sentenced to three years’ probation and 500 hours community service. In addition, she was banned for life from the U.S. Figure Skating Association.
When asked if he believes in second chances, Abdul-Jabbar replied, “Absolutely.”
RELATED VIDEO: Tonya Harding ‘Was Involved Up to Her Neck’ in the Nancy Kerrigan Attack, Says Oregon DA
“You know, people make mistakes, and when you understand [Harding’s] circumstances, it will affect how you deal with judging her,” he said. “I don’t feel I try to judge anybody. I wish her success and hope she feels good about what she does, you know?”
On DWTS, Abdul-Jabbar is partnered with Lindsay Arnold, who won last season with Jordan Fisher, and the basketball star told PEOPLE that the rehearsal process has been “very humbling” for him but he’s “making progress.”
- Want to keep up on the latest from PEOPLE? Sign
up for our daily newsletter to get our best stories of the day delivered straight to your inbox.
“It looks so simple and easily done, but when you’re trying to coordinate two people, it takes a while for both of them to learn each other’s coordinating moves and how to proceed through the sequence of things,” he said “All of the dances [I’ve seen] throughout my life make it look so thoughtless and easy, and I can see how much work it is to pull it off — wow.”
Among the athletes joining Abdul-Jabbar and Harding on DWTS are former Olympic skaters Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu; Olympic snowboarder Jamie Anderson and luger Chris Mazdzer; Notre Dame’s national championship hero Arike Ogunbowale; former pro softball player Jennie Finch Daigle; retired professional baseball outfielder Johnny Damon; and Washington Redskins’ cornerback Josh Norman.
Season 26 of Dancing with the Stars premieres April 30 (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.